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Virginia Considering Stricter Distracted Driving Laws

The Commonwealth of Virginia may soon join many other states in enacting stricter distracted driving laws relating to hand-held cellular phone use.  Presently, the Commonwealth has a law that has been criticized by police officers and others as being “very difficult to enforce,” according to Delegate Chris Collins (R – Frederick), a former police officer who introduced House Bill 181.  HB 181 would make distracted driving a primary offense.  If HB 181 goes into effect, police officers will not need an additional reason to pull a driver over if they observe them texting and driving.  Also, drivers can be fined for reading e-mails or texts or typing while driving, however other “screen time” remains legal under the current law.

The current distracted driving law was enacted in 2009, making distracted driving a secondary offense if a driver was texting or emailing.  The law was changed in 2013 to make the offense a primary offense, however other hand-held use of cell phones remains legal (such as using a map application or dialing telephone numbers), despite the fact that those uses also can substantially impair a driver’s ability to pay full time and attention to the road.

House Bill 181 would make the use of any handheld device, such as a cell phone, that “substantially diverts the diver’s attention” punishable by a fine of up to $500.00. (with a minimum mandated fine of $250.00 for driving while distracted in a construction zone).  Exemptions are allowed for police officers, emergency personnel, and drivers who are lawfully stopped or parked.

The Virginia House passed the bill last week with a 50-47 vote.  A vote in the state Senate is set for Thursday, March 8th.

The Virginia Pilot reported that since 2012, 949 drivers have been killed on Virginia roads as a result of distracted driving.  If you have been injured or a loved one has been killed due to the negligence of distracted driver, contact the Halperin Law Center for a no-obligation, no-cost case evaluation.